When this year’s Razzie nominations for worst picture were announced, we here at Pajiba were shocked and more than a little embarrassed by the inclusion of Dirty Love, a gross-out romantic comedy showcasing former MTV “personality” Jenny McCarthy’s unplumbable willingness to humiliate herself. Not because we had given it a positive review or thought its inclusion unfair, but because we had never heard of it. Given our dedication to examining the festering carbuncles encrusting Hollywood’s bloated buttocks, how could we have missed such a worthy subject? Perhaps it’s because the movie was given a mostly unpublicized release and played only a couple of weeks before its hasty withdrawal. (It opened on 44 screens, then dropped down to two after the first week, grossing a total of $58,116 in its theatrical run. That’s right: $58,116.)
A glance at the few reviews heralding its brief release revealed a rare unanimity of opinion: This is possibly the worst movie ever made. Naturally, my curiosity was aroused — what was this movie that no one saw but that provoked such rancor? Could we be in the glorious presence of another Showgirls? So when I noticed that it was available on-demand through my cable provider, I paid my $3.99 and sat down to watch the movie that had beaten out such worthy contenders as Rebound, Alone in the Dark, and Herbie: Fully Loaded for the uncoveted nomination. And you know what? I didn’t hate it. In fact, it’s kind of a kick.
The listing trumpeted that this was the “unedited” version, which sounded promising: Maybe I could be the hundred-millionth American man to see McCarthy’s breasts — is there some kind of prize associated with that? (I mean, aside from the obvious.) It turns out that there is: You get to see her breasts covered in vomit. And you get to watch her squeeze and jiggle them while screaming “They’re just fucking globs of fat!” Top that, Meryl Streep.
McCarthy clearly made Dirty Love as a last-ditch effort to revive her career while she’s still young and pretty enough to coast on her looks. It’s the definition of a vanity project: She actually wrote the screenplay herself, and John Asher, her now-estranged husband, directed it. Asher’s set-ups are pretty pedestrian, but they’re more like the bland, routine stuff you find on the average TV show than the monumental disasters most critics would have you believe. And it’s true that McCarthy’s script doesn’t have much of a plot; it’s just a series of loosely connected humiliation episodes, with several of the gags lifted from other movies. But she manages to find a few taboos that haven’t yet been broached onscreen — practically a miracle in the age of the gross-out comedy — and in tackling those taboos, her desperation drives her to really go for broke. This girl will do anything, absolutely anything for a laugh: Get puked on by a Woody Allen lookalike? Check. Trail a river of menstrual blood through a supermarket? Check. Fart at her mother through the phone? Check. (And Mom farts back!) Get strip-searched in front of her date while wearing a giant maxi pad? Check.
Dirty Love is in the worst possible taste. It has crossed the Himalayas of bad taste and come out the other side. And for that reason, if no other, I kinda love it. Clearly it’s not for everyone, but if you can tolerate the vulgarity, and particularly if you’re sick of by-the-book romantic comedies, it has moments that are perfectly delightful. Its crassness is tonic; it helps neutralize the usual genre cliches.
It’s easy to class McCarthy as just another blonde bimbo, but the essence of the classic screen bimbo is that she isn’t in on the joke. This woman not only knows what the joke is, she’s set it up at her own expense. And her despised little movie has something going for it that almost none of the critically lauded films of 2005 do: It approaches its subject from a woman’s perspective. While the typical gross-out comedy — There’s Something About Mary, the American Pie films — deals with male anxieties, Dirty Love is all about the horrors of having breasts and a vagina. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, but there’s a paradox in the way that McCarthy, who has gone to a hell of a lot of effort to make herself a sex object, rebels against her objectification by men. She uses the scenes of humiliation to forestall any attempt to think of her as just a sexy babe: Wanna see my tits? Fine, but they’re gonna be covered in puke. Wanna peel off my sexy pink thong? Well, underneath is a duvet-sized maxi pad soaking up a geyser of menses. This is what I deal with to look like this — I shave and bleach and starve myself, I use beauty masks that tear off three layers of skin, I struggle just to get my hot ass into a pair of those tight jeans you love so much. And what do I get in return? I get to date self-obsessed prettyboys, sex freaks, or obnoxious, socially crippled ninnies. And then they chew my clit like it’s bubble gum.
Now I’m not saying that Dirty Love is a brilliant feminist polemic, but its treatment of women’s body issues is just as valid — and often just as funny — as the ejaculatory yuks in the typical male-centered sex comedy. Which is not to say that there aren’t glaring errors in judgment. Much of the cast is obnoxious — I could have done with a lot less of Kam Heskin, who looks like a slightly deflated Amanda Lepore and talks like Melanie Griffith on helium, and Kathy Griffin’s cameo is just embarrassing. But the early critics were needlessly harsh on Carmen Electra. She’s supposed to be a lame white girl pathetically trying to be black, y’all — that’s the joke! — and anyone who thinks her performance is insufficiently rooted in reality has obviously never seen Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas (nee Stacy from “Kids Incorporated”). And Eddie Kaye Thomas, who looks and acts like a more handsome, better-adjusted version of the young Gene Wilder, deserves credit for being the one person onscreen who underplays.
Maybe the problem is that most movie critics are dull, straight, white men with no appreciation of camp. To the camp-loving moviegoer, the issue of whether McCarthy or Electra can act is completely beside the point; they have to get up every morning and be Jenny McCarthy and Carmen Electra all day — what more do you want? With their bleached, tanned, worked-out, and surgically altered exaggeration of conventional beauty, they don’t need to create the illusion that they’ve become a character: Their bodies and personas are already plenty artificial. But the spectacle of them trying to entertain — McCarthy humiliating herself, Electra speaking her ghetto patois — is both touching in its earnestness and hilarious in its not-quite-success.
The response to Dirty Love says less about the movie than it does the bullying, herd-following nature of most movie critics. Some movies are just easy targets, and every aspect of Dirty Love practically has a “kick me” sign on it. It’s difficult to defend the movie as having tried to do anything more than provide shallow entertainment at a totally juvenile level but, on that count, it accomplishes its mission. And it has something that almost any film critic should be able to appreciate — the geek gets the girl.
Jeremy C. Fox is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society. You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()